Sunday, April 10, 2011

Week 15: 2012 and the End of the World

2012 and the End of the World: the Western Roots of the Maya Apocalypse, by Matthew Restall and Amara Solari

Lots of people are talking about 2012 and whether it's a significant date--there are a couple of hundred books on 2012 and whether we'll have a catastrophe, a rebirth, a galactic awakening, or something. Maybe the world will end! This short, somewhat scholarly book analyzes the roots of the apocalyptic 2012 fuss and shows where it came from.

Most of the time, people will just say "The Mayan calendar ends in December 2012!" You then have to assume that the Maya had secret esoteric knowledge that allowed them to predict the end of the world. It turns out not to be so exciting; the Maya probably weren't thinking about the end of the world at all. They liked to do calendar math, and one calendar they developed--the Long Count--had a very long cycle. It seems that they began the count nicely far back in the past, so that they would be comfortably in the middle. But they conceived of the world as existing in a cycle of death and re-birth, so the end of the Long Count would pretty much mean the beginning of another one.

People have mixed this up with the Aztecs and our own Western tradition of looking for the apocalypse--it wasn't the Maya who made a habit of predicting the end of the world every few years, that would be us. So this is a nice little introduction to the ideas and Mayan literature that got twisted into all the fuss about 2012.

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